Why "a commercial forum"?

I noticed that one of the other topics here is titled …

“On a current event in a commercial forum, widely managed by volunteer moderators”

… referring to the “stack exchange” sites – and I’ve seen some Buddhist[s] now before describe those sites as “commercial”, and criticise them for being so.

Technically it’s not a “forum” but more strictly a Q&A site, but…

My question is, why describe them as “commercial”?

Does its being “managed by volunteer moderators” suggest it isn’t commercial, or, …?

Is it bad, potentially bad, potentially good to be “commercial” – what are the warnings (disadvantages) if you can offer advice about that, what are the benefits or strengths of it if any, can it be improved or less bad (in how it’s used, managed, operated)?

I mean, in general terms and from a Buddhist point of view – advice that’s intended for the public.

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I’m in a couple of fora. For instance, the “tetration-forum” (which deals with the math of the so-called “tetration”) was set up by a then math student and has no commercial interest over 12 years now. It is easy to not know (or at least not always to be aware) that the many subforums are not only community driven. This twist has also been given expression in some of the contributions of the current controversy. So I think it not inappropriate to mention this to the members of a forum, which is not driven for commercial purposes - in the contrary - and who might not know this themselves. So I did.

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“Commercial” would presumably imply somebody receiving an income from the forum, perhaps via advertising revenue.

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That’s right. Stack Exchange is a for-profit company, running closed-source software on their own servers.

Discourse for example is developed and maintained by a company, but the platform itself is open source, meaning if you have your own server (for example, suttacentral.net) you can freely install discourse on your server, ad-free.

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Yes I understand that as a literal fact, Bhante. I have long-time professional software development experience.

Perhaps I am asking whether that has moral implications (especially from a Buddhist perspective), or prescriptive ones in terms of “advice for users” – how or whether to use it.

Not the software eco-system especially – I see the SE and Discourse softwares as more-or-less analogous, belonging to the same family, unless you want to and can create your own autonomous server, as SuttaCentral has here – I mean more the social eco-system, i.e. to what’s extent if any its being commercial affects users and content … what (if anything) it’s good and not so good for.

Am I right to understand “commercial” as having some pejorative meaning? Or can’t one answer that in general, and must instead determine the speaker’s intent on a case-by-case basis?


I might ask too whether there’s an important difference between “volunteer moderators” on “a commercial forum” as opposed to e.g. on this site – I didn’t ask that though because perhaps nobody knows that from their personal experience, nor can usefully generalise even if so.

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Ah! Well, that sounds like a question for the OP

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Dont think that is the case.

It is always good to be aware of the whole picture. For example, when I use Gmail for free I should be aware that it is a service provided by a for-profit organization and part of their for-profit operations.

This means I should never forget that while I dont pay for using it they are always seeking to make some profit with or from my use of it. And this may mean some sort of impersonal and big data-based use of the digital footprint I leave while using Gmail, including patterns, themes, subjects and even content of my inbox and outbox.

Some people panic about it, and some go to the extreme of not using it for those reasons. I dont, but I always remind myself that one way or the other I will have to pay for the ‘luxury’ of having 16GB of inobx space to accumulate useless spam and from time to time send some important emails related to my personal and professional pursuits. :man_shrugging:

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Nessie answered for himself already.

I was curious. though, because I heard “commercial” used as a criticism before (i.e. from someone else), as though it were anathema – not that I want to cite a specific reference to that case – so I wondered if it were a general Buddhist principle: something anti-commercial

In the modern world there are commercially-funded platforms and publishers, but who seem mostly laissez-faire and who provide a “free” service. I see that as being – at least in part – pro bono, though “they” have commercial interests too, and one ought to beware of social media and so on for various reasons.

Does commercial involvement in the publication of free/volunteer information make the information tainted? Is free/volunteer information itself tainted, to be avoided and replaced with only expert and wholly-admirable information?

Is “volunteer management” (volunteers chosen from within the community) relevant to whether a site is seen as commercial (and, because it’s “commercial”, relatively harmful)?

If you ever used a site like this one (SuttaCentral), would you only a use a non-commercial site, and why, what is it that makes it non-commercial? I guess “commercial” in that context isn’t defined by how the software and bandwidth is paid for – or is it, is that of some utmost importance?

I think not in general, there is obviously a role for that. The problem is when the commercial and the spiritual start to mix. There we have to be very careful, because the lines get real blurry real fast. Which is why we always prefer to use open source software at SC, even if it is produced by a commercial firm.

Full disclosure: the main site is built on Google’s Polymer platform. And, while it’s not really related, we receive sponsorship from Chade Meng-tan, an ex-Googler.

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I think, in general one should avoid projecting into the mind of others. Even in secular media like in wikipedia, or also in SE, there is a guideline: “assume good faith” even if you might feel the other one is on a “pejorative” trip, so this should especially true in Suttacentral. The former german military-theoretical v. Clausewitz, or was it his son - or his grandson? Or his grand-grandson, well one of them surely formulated the great word: “insert the idea of pejoratism to turn the forum of your neighbour into a burning hell”.

Finding that headline I feel that my first impulse to put my hint into the (cooler) category “lounge” has been wise. Just to remember: when I was a student, we had those weekend-workshops to really delve into a matter, having written material and time for group-discussion and evaluation of actual or reported processes. My idea was that this -in many parts very well written and well thought- material, covering many aspects even in self-critical way, would serve wonderfully for such a type of workshop for meditators (or even for the self study). I still think it would. And I don’t like to be a target of assumption over my intentions, especially when negative intention like “pejatory expression” is suggested. (I’ll not expand on this more: in earlier years people might have been assumed a pejatory intention when coming across the word “voluntary” when denoting some activity, which was well in the headline of my announcement - but each generation has its own demons, I think, and I don’t just like to enter on this current one’s. I think I’d stated my intentions with my other posting quite explicite already)

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I very much don’t mean that you were being pejorative, nor that there’s anything wrong with SuttaCentral.

It was only that you used “commercial” to characterise SE, as if that were significant or important – and I’ve had someone else complain at length that SE is completely unsuitable because it’s “commercial” (so I thought I might ask about that complaint here, as a separate topic; I quoted your topic title but removed the link to it).

That, i.e. its being commercial, is true in some sense; but it’s a bit contrary to my own experience of its being a fairly open platform – I mean socially open i.e. fairly public, not “open software” – with more-or-less self-organising communities and “volunteer management” as you said.

So I wondered, how is it significantly commercial? What is it about its being commercial that makes it, apparently, wrong to use?

Anyway instead of asking a general question here I should probably ask the person: “What do you mean, why do you say that?” And I have done so, and I have some idea what his stated view is. I can hardly understand him though, partly my fault because his English isn’t clear and I know hardly any of his.

So I thought of asking here – do you recognise “this problem” whatever it is, is it standard Buddhist doctrine, a very orthodox attitude from a monk?

Maybe it’s unanswerable though, sorry: perhaps I can’t give a clear enough description of what the problem/topic is.

I’m sorry I brought the topic up now – it’s kind of inviting/asking you to see what’s wrong with something, maybe that’s not kind and beneficial.